Monday, May 7, 2012

The Cabin with the Goods

     I was texting with a friend as I left this movie and he asked me how it was.  I told him to wait for the Frog and he told me that he didn't think the Frog covered horror movies.  Let's get this straight:  I try to cover movies worth watching of ALL genres and I actually LOVE good horror movies:  The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, Psycho, all GREAT films.  Do I expect a Final Destination part 15, or Saw 87 to live up to Whales's Bride of Frankenstein?  No, so most of the time I don't bother.  Even horror movies that do well with many critics, such as last year's Insidious, often seem too formulaic and predictable to me (I gave it 2 of 5*).  All that being said, The Cabin in the Woods did not disappoint AT ALL.
      I'm a huge fan of Joss Whedon's work: Buffy, Angel, and Doll's House were all great series that I thoroughly enjoyed watching.  Co-writer/director Drew Goddard worked with Whedon before on several episodes of those series as well as being the mind behind the film Cloverfield.  Together they have created a film with both the serious no holds barred horror of Cloverfield and the ironic tongue-in-cheek sensibilities of Whedon's oeuvre.  Amazingly, it totally works.
     The film starts off with a familiar enough premise:  five college age kids go off for a weekend at an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere.  But where a film like Insidious falls into the genre's conventions and cliches, Cabin in the Woods dives in head first, tackling these plot points, grabbing them by the throat and forging self-aware explanations for them all.  I can't say a lot more about that without spoiling some of the best surprises and twists of the film (and there are many), but there is a parallel plot line with "puppet masters" and a finale where the two plot lines converge that is just spectacular.  So many horror films start out strong and fall apart near the end.  Not here.  Cabin's climax is one of the most exciting and impressive twenty minutes that I have seen in a film in a long time.  Even in these violent final moments, Whedon's snarky brand of funny shines effectively through the cracks without spoiling the mood.  Not easy.
      Because of said humor, the cast gets a lot more chance to show off their acting chops than is usually available to performers in this type of movie.  They do an excellent job of balancing these elements. 
It is a diverse group made up of old Whedon production standbys (Fran Kranz, Amy Acker, Tom Lenk), other actors best known for television (Kristen Connolly, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford), a practical unknown (Anna Hutchison), a rising movie star (Chris Hemsworth) and a two film vets who've done almost everything (Richard Jenkins and Sigourney Weaver).  It's an ensemble effort, making it difficult to pick a stand out, although Connolly certainly gets the most material to work with.
      It is also worth noting that the visual effects were most impressive, especially in the last half hour.  I know there had to be a ton of CGI involved, but it meshed into the live action footage pretty seamlessly.  Of course a film like this can't work effectively without flawless sound work and editing.
     I wish this movie had come out in October;  it is so unlikely that we'll have a better movie for the Halloween season.  However, it was good to see something in the pre-Summer Tent Pole/Blockbuster part of the year exceed expectations so greatly.  Makes me even more anxious to see how Whedon handled The Avengers.  4 1/2 of 5 stars

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